Heterotemporality and “Queer Time”
Content Warnings: Transphobia, Homophobia, and Aphobia, discussion of HIV/AIDS and death, suicide, abusive families, and United States discriminatory policy.
Has time ever felt differently for you as a queer person? Maybe you’re experiencing typical “adolescent milestones” as a young adult through your first love. Maybe you feel reborn again now that you’re out, even at 45.
Let’s talk about “Queer Time.”
First, what is Heterotemporality? This is defined by the time-based needs of the diversity of human life, the way we are all aligned in relation to one another through events, developments, and stages on a consistent model of the passage of time and how it affects us as individuals.
However, if you’re an LGBTQIA2S+ person, whether you’ve been out for 3 days or 30 years, you probably know that for many of us, time can pass very differently. We can experience life stages out of the “typical order,” find rebirth in processes like gender transition, and more. From talking with so many other adults my age in the community, we seem to have reached a consensus that our population tends to have a sort of adolescent-like time during young adulthood. This can be due to repression, discrimination, or even the lack of opportunity for dating.
Liberation is not always an option for non-allocishet people until we gain some sort of independence. This is also why a lot of trans and non-binary people don’t start their social, medical, and/or legal transition until they’re a young adult, middle-aged, or an even older adult.
With medical transition in particular, the body can even feel like it’s going through a second puberty. In this case, you aren’t just experiencing life stages in a different order, you’re having a life stage that typically occurs once, happen for you twice in a single lifetime.
“Queer Time” has been theorized and discussed by countless members of our community. Even searching the term online can bring up endless think-pieces, all with their own observations on how time can operate much differently for us, even though we’re living in the same society. It’s no surprise that being LGBTQIA2S+ makes our lifetime feel different, especially if we’ve lived through monumental changes to our state of freedom. Even just in my lifetime, I both experienced “gay” being a hurled playground insult and saw gay marriage become legal for me.
Before the legalization of gay marriage, a lot of people didn’t even have access to the “typical stages of adulthood.” We couldn’t get married and start a family. Even now, with endless obstacles for child adoption, many of us still struggle to gain basic access to parenthood. These are things allocishet people don’t even have to think about, but we do. We live it every single day, and due to the trauma that many gay, trans, and aspec people face in the world due to cisheteronormative policy and messaging, many of us deal with a scary phenomenon known as “foreshortened future,” which is a trauma symptom that evokes the deep feeling that you will not live the length of a typical lifespan. It can happen to anyone who has gone through trauma, but it’s unfortunately a very common experience for many people in the LGBTQIA2S+ community. The experience of living in a closet (or even being out) in a household with homophobic, transphobic, or aphobic family members, is extremely traumatizing in and of itself.
For people who are still partially or fully in the closet, ”Queer Time” can also feel like a double-life.
To experience adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, and kids as a closeted person — essentially a full lifetime — to then come out and experience all of it again, is easily possible for us. There’s even more at play when you take into account healthcare policy in countries like the U.S. Looking back into the past, the government’s response to the AIDS crisis gave countless people the scary sense of a shortened lifespan, changing how we moved through time as individuals. It was an existential reality that many other populations at the time were not even experiencing.
An art museum instillation by Félix González, whose partner died from AIDS in the early 90s, is a pile of candy, each piece representing a pound, as weight loss was a common side effect of living with AIDS. Onlookers are allowed to take (or leave) as many pieces of candy as they want, a metaphor for both the fleetingness and expansiveness of gay life.
But this isn’t the only example of how “Queer Time” affects our vulnerable population. Recent policies in the United States, specifically attacking trans healthcare, changed the way the trans community views their own lifespan and safety. Ask any trans person today how it feels. Having our lives and futures constantly at risk is a huge reason why our rates of mental illness and suicide are so much higher than allocishet populations.
According to The Suicide Prevention Resource Center, LGBQIA2S+ youth suicide attempt rate is about 10%. That’s one in TEN kids.
At the end of the day, our community has dealt with hell and back endless times. These changes don’t stop and this affects everything. Our mental health, our sense of identity, our bodies, our relationships, and much more. It makes complete sense that this would also affect time. So, here is my message. If you are an LGBTQIA2S+ person and you feel behind, or stuck, or immature/too mature, or like you aren’t hitting the same milestones as all the allocishet people around you, I’m here to tell you that it’s not just okay: it’s completely normal for us.
Maybe you haven’t had your first kiss yet, or haven’t started living as your true self until yesterday. Maybe it causes grief. You aren’t alone in that feeling. Our community lives in an alternate bubble of time and always has. Your future is so beautiful, so bright and expansive, more than you can imagine. It’s out there, filled with everything life has to offer, waiting for you… and so are we.
If any of the content above brought up hard feelings, here is a helpline for LGBTQIA2S+ people: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now/